An overview of the conference organised by the Flight Operations Group on 20 – 21 March at No.4 Hamilton Place to discuss the skills, characteristics and training that aircraft commanders in the 21st century will require.
The conference was one of the best attended the Flight Operations Group (FOG) has seen, and certainly one of the most prestigious when considering delegates came from all parts of the aviation industry as well as both sides of the Atlantic, Middle and Far East and Australia.
It would be over long to list all the eminent contributions, however an exception must be made for the dramatic description of the safe conduct of the QF A380 after the massive engine failure out of Singapore. Captain David Evans explained the actions of his crew that day, described by him with modest humour, it was a shining example of command and crew resource management at its best. We were told the share price of Qantas suffered when the local news announced the crash of the A380 on Batam Island in Indonesia after debris, clearly from a QF airplane, had been found scattered on the ground. Fortunately this problem was swiftly corrected when the airplane landed safely back at Changi.
Capt Maurice Knowles, Chairman of the FOG , then introduced the next session from the legislators, Henry Defalque for ICAO, Herbert Meyer for EASA and the UK CAA ably represented by our committee member Terry Buckland. The account of present and proposed legislation left no doubt of the acceptance of the MPL which was to some of those present a novel method of entering the profession. Lastly in this session Capt Pete Wolfe, Executive Director of the Professional Aviation Board of Certification whose mission is to prepare and enhance licenced members of the profession. The PABC have a goal of a universal standard for pilots, as the baccalaureate is to school students in many countries.
Peter Moxham of FOG introduced the next section on selection, this was the platform for British Airways, Airbus and Oxford Aviation Academy to explain how future pilots were selected and trained. The overall impression here was a reducing pool of likely candidates, constrained by the substantial costs of initial training. Airlines are reluctant to fund such training, the military has reduced to an extent that it is no longer a reliable source of recruits, and governments are equally unwilling to spend money from increasingly tight budgets.
Capt John Monks from BA and Capt Christian Norden from Airbus Flight Crew Development on behalf of the ITQI project gave their views on selection, with the conclusion that future good commanders depended on sound initial selection and training. Since 9/11 and its locked flight deck door policy, the opportunity for flight deck visits has gone, seemingly forever, thus the youth who were once inspired to fly no longer have that source of inspiration, which all present agreed is indeed a pity.
Capt Robert Scott of FOG introduced the speakers of the 3rd session on Day 1 , the subject being the Commander is Human. First Officers who flew BEA Viscounts with some of the survivors from Bomber Command may have had their doubts on this, as may those who flew with the Atlantic Barons of BOAC. Happily for the young pilots of today, CTC and Netjets Europe, represented most ably by Capts Steve Billett and Richard Weeks, confirmed proper training and selection will replace the barons by thinking commanders well versed in good crew resource management. However neither Captain considered touchy feely soft skills a replacement for airmanship, a definition that was to be much discussed during the conference. We were all impressed by the Human Factors descriptions given by Professor Rhona Flin from Aberdeen University, proving that despite pilots coming from a multitude of different countries, it was found pilot identity took precedence over that of nationality.
Captain Pete Terry, vice Chairman of the Group, chaired the final session of the day entitled Operator Approaches and Challenges presented by Lufthansa Vice President of Training Capt Burkhard Kruse, Capt Martin Mahoney in the same post at Emirates and Capt Alan Wilson Manager Flying Training with Cathay. Lufthansa having given the initial impetus to the MPL, where selection, once again, is the key to success, this position was re-iterated by the other two companies. Next came the RAF contribution from Sqdn Ldr Nigel Scopes, QFI and Standards Evaluation on the Boeing Sentry. The contraction of the RAF under this and past governments coupled with their mission creep has proved a busy time for the Sentry units which seemed to our civilian ears to be remarkably lean in crews and aircraft. The RAF is not recruiting pilots at present, and the numbers leaving a mere trickle compared with times past, thus a virtual end to military as source of future airline pilots.
The second day was opened by an address from Capt Jacques Drapier, a former Sabena Management Pilot and a current instructor on all FBW Airbus. Recently retired from Airbus, he remains a consultant to Airbus for all training and operational matters. He emphasised that the glass flightdeck and advanced automation is not a replacement for the thinking human and basic handling skills must be maintained. Two notable quotes – the necessity to understand “The difference between data and information” and “Commanders must be good handling pilots or will lose credibility”
It was then the turn of the manufactures to present their views on future aircraft development and the challenge this will present to the commanders who will fly them. Capt Philip Adrian, Chief Technical Pilot at Boeing for the 737, an apparently immortal design, showed us airplanes develop over a long period of time, but can and do change by stages until the original bears little resemblance to its successor. Capt Scott Martin of Gulfstream highlighted the evolution of the flight deck and how Gulfstream manages to balance the role of automation with providing easily accessible information for the pilot. Captain Dick Wolf of Bombardier who gave an enjoyable presentation regarding the customer Flight deck design requests for their new commuter jet aircraft followed him.
This led on to the subject of Technology, Friend or Foe chaired by Captain Richard Week of the FOG - the sad example of the loss of the A330 AF447 over the Atlantic ever in our minds. Nikki Heath, CEO of Symbiotics gave a presentation as to how to select the Human to existing Technology, followed by a personal view from Capt Uwe Harter of IFALPA where he emphasised that we should match the Technology to the Human not the other way round. This session was closed by a clear and concise speech by Dr Kathy Abbott of the FAA – out of which came a memorable point in her address, when stating that United Airlines has some 5000 pilots, but only 5 under 40 years of age, the vast numbers of aircraft on order across the world, combined with an increasing demographic gap in the pilot population resembles a tsunami, a flat calm followed by an all consuming wave.
The final session of the conference was chaired by Capt Tim Sindall of the FOG, entitled Mentoring – It’s place and value. Capt Deke Abbott of the FAA and Professor Cookson from Oberlin University in Japan considered how best to mentor both future commanders, and those newly in command. It was interesting to note the difference in the European qualifications for an airline pilot and that of the United States. Europe accepts low hours, but tailored training to gain the MPL, where the recent Congress policy requires at least 1500 hours for a full ATPL, there was considerable discussion over this point, both from the floor and Professor Cookson emphasised the importance of good command of English, no matter where the origin of the pilot, and how in Japan this has high priority. His current project is also to guide Japanese Pilot students as to how to address the cultural divide regarding junior to senior communication To close the session Capt Max Wright Director of Training at FlyBe, the first UK airline to go down the MPL route, stated how well the former candidates had fitted in to their role as line pilots, we look forward to hearing how they progress into the Captains seat in due course.
It is for all in the profession, wherever they may be, to resist any lowering of standards, however presented from on high, to keep the industry safe in the future. The commanders of airplanes now on the drawing board have yet to be born, their aircraft will be flying as this century grows old, all we can say is that time is on their side, with an Ipad of course.
Full audio proceedings of this Conference can be purchased on a CD (£115 for RAeS members, £135 for non-members). For more information, please contact the Conference & Events Team on +44 (0)20 7670 4345 or email email@example.com
The RAeS Flight Operations Group will hold a follow up Conference next year on 19 – 20 March 2013 focusing on the role of mentoring in delivering aircraft commanders for the 21st Century.